Written, produced and performed by G. Smokey Campbell.
Developed and directed by Jessica Lynn Johnson.
The Whitefire Theatre’s Black Voices Solo Theatre Festival series continues to be a lifeline to those of us whose hearts ache for live theatre.
This latest of the shows I have had the privilege to see is SHĀDEE, an 80 min dramedy written and performed by G. Smokey Campbell, about Nick Niles, an innocent activist wrongfully imprisoned at a prison farm.
Mr Campbell artfully embodies the 20 vastly different characters leading us through the story and giving us a vivid, shocking and heart-breaking window into the world of privatized prisons, the sickening spread of gentrification, and the profits culled from both by ‘shadee’ corporations that give free reign by politicians and unwitting citizens benefiting from this culture of greed.
Nick Niles’ life story is a lesson for us all. A history of America, a twisting of karma, a mythological hero’s journey. It’s a clear and beautifully written piece. Full of the horror of Jim Crow, segregation, busing and the arch of injustice, isolation and poverty’s path to prison. Niles’ life is told with light too though, his grandmother, or ”G’mom,” is a pillar of strength and a source of love to him. The childish escapades are warmly remembered, even running from his cruel father feels like a victory and fuel to his growing heart. So there’s a very real sense of place, a deep connection to the characters and a humor and a poetry. It’s such a hard line to walk when telling stories such as this, knowing when to laugh and when to cry and when to scream. Mr Campbell walks it with brilliance.
My father grew up very poor, charity shoes and many kids to the bed, icy winters and one bath a week. The stories he told us, oh how I wish there were more, were always full of humor and small victories, even though it was a hard, hard life. Although I can see some of that in Niles’ story, of course it is very different. This story is about the Black experience, poverty is cruel enough without everything that being Black adds to it. The grace of G’mom could not protect young Nick Niles from the harsh reality of his path.
How can we change if we don’t acknowledge this story? His is a story that could belong to so many others over so many years and even now still rings true to children growing up in this America. These past few years in this country have changed us I think. More of us that didn’t really know the true experience of this terrible legacy can now say that we do. We can now say that we will do all we can to ensure that it will never be that way again and that we recognize the pain caused and the atrocities ignored.
We have a long way to go but I feel sure that we are on the road together at last, thanks in no small part to stories like this one and to artists like G. Smokey Campbell who shine the light so we can see.
A portion of the proceeds will go to: Equal Justice Initiative and the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.
If you want to find out more about G. Smokey Campbell and to see where you might be able to see this show either online or even live…we can only hope, please check out his Facebook, instagram or his website.